2001 Conference Proceedings

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Karen McCall, M.Ed.
Karlen Communications Inc., Adaptive Technology Consulting and Training Practice
Oakville, Ontario Canada E-mail: martha@iprimus.ca

Aimee Todd
Sight Substitution Centre, W Ross Macdonald School for the Blind
Brantford, Ontario Canada E-mail: Aimee.Todd@edu.gov.on.ca 


Adaptive technology can facilitate the empowerment and independence of people with disabilities in many ways. By providing access to information and communication tools, people with disabilities can participate as equals in their own educational process, their own employment process and "just be more independent " at home. The piece that is missing in this empowerment and independence is the training piece. Although some government funding for equipment does allow for a modicum of training (Government of Ontario, Assistive Devices Program Manual, 1997), it is at a very basic level and tends to separate the adaptive technology from the base technology itself. For example, training may be specified for the screen reader or screen magnification software in isolation from the operating system and word processing program. This denotes a lack of understanding of the role of adaptive technology in the entire "access to information" process. 

Adaptive technology provides, or should provide, a seamless solution to a barrier. The barrier in this case is a Graphical User Interface (GUI) which is not forgiving of human "frailties." GUI's are designed for the common denominator of visual access to information. Yet we know from studies on learning styles (Sorensen, 2000) and acquisition of information (Beumer, de Haan, van der Ven, 1999) that we access and retain knowledge and information in different ways. Not allowing choice of access is the same as teaching or training to the visual learner alone. A more holistic approach to adaptive technology  needs to be explored. 

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Collaboration in the Assessment and Equipment Trials Process

Traditionally, base technology and/or adaptive technology is purchased as the result of an assessment process  through government funded centres. Clients may also receive an assessment through "workplace accommodation" or "educational accommodation."

Often centres are embroiled in maintaining a status quo of current equipment which engulfs much of the centre's financial  resources. Developing viable training material is time and labour intensive as well as requiring a commitment of funding. At this point in the history of adaptive technology distribution, a commitment to the development of training materials and curriculum has not been a priority.

For the purpose of this paper, Home, Education and Workplace needs can be thought of as having some of the following elements:

It is not suggested that people providing assessments be proficient in all areas of adaptive technology. It is suggested that a true team approach to Client based services in general be adopted by centres. This would mean that Trainers could be involved in the assessment process at the point of equipment trials. Having a Trainer who is used to intuitive problem solving and integration of adaptive technology may provide the Client with solutions not considered under a "standard" assessment approach. As a centre, it is essential to Client based program delivery to ensure that all aspects of skills and expertise are utilized for the benefit of the Client. 

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The Role of "Education", "Training" and "Just in Time Training"

We tend to think of "education" as a process of "Imparting core skills and knowledge to be built upon." and training as the process of "Skills and knowledge to raise people's performance, often organized from the Trainer's perspective, " (Harrison,1998) At first glance, this might appear to be a semantic distinction. However, if we look at the "Just in Time Training" model of program delivery, the goal is to increase performance "today" not necessarily have a measurable outcome "tomorrow." People depending on adaptive technology for empowerment and independence need that "daily measurable outcome" and set of core skills.

A modular approach to the acquisition  of core skills and enhanced knowledge is not a sterile approach to training. Rather, it is an extension of basic educational theory. It incorporates the philosophy of creating lesson plans and structured instruction with the reality of computer based technology and the need to "know it now." It allows for the architecture and accountability of training pieces to meet Client needs. (Van Wagner, 2000) It also incorporates support materials that are adaptive technology specific. Many Clients have not had experience or core skills related to computer use from which to base the inclusion of adaptive technology (Garb, 1999). This fact must be recognized and addressed by adaptive technology training.

This brings us to the issue of the new catch phrase in training, "Just in Time Training" (JiT)  JiT concepts are based in the manufacturing sector to provide cost effective means to supply and demand. (Kosiur, 1997)  Applying "assembly line" concepts to adaptive technology training, ignores the role of the Client or "student" in the process. Van Wagner (2000) identifies the modular approach to instructional design as "allowing the student at any point in the process to either work through the entire concept/task , or to take the pieces they need based on knowledge and experience ... this allows them to go back if they discover that they need to brush up on the core skills required to work through the section/chapter." The application of manufacturing principles on an educational and training process invites failure. The creation and implementation of course materials and curriculum is not an "automated assembly line" just waiting to have the start button pressed. Even within manufacturing sectors, JiT is not the panacea for all manufacturing and distribution needs.

Too often JiT training is watered down to "throwing Help file keyboard shortcuts" at Clients, having a Trainer demonstrating only a few of the keystrokes, and the Client is then left to "play on their own" and grasp core computer concepts. The real danger of JiT as applied to adaptive technology training, is that it is eventually applied to Trainer training leaving Trainers with no conceptual core skills from which to draw on. 

A strategy of  "you ask for it and THEN we will THINK about developing it"  can not be applied to adaptive technology. This negates the need to develop core computer skills or the need for "instruction" on how to perform specific tasks. It also comes back to aiming training toward "self-motivated, able to figure out the keystrokes and run with them" Clients. There is no acknowledgement of varied "learning styles" and this approach denies a Client based pedagogy.

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Putting Together A ToolKit

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Actively promote universal design theory and implementation. If people think that having a computer with the option to have everything read to you is just another part of a "Desktop Theme" then the integration of Client needs and the cost of "adaptive technology" can be alleviated. As long as adaptive technology remains "specialized and segregated" Clients will require financial assistance to purchase a tool that is, for the rest of the population, as commonplace as the telephone. Training on technology will also remain "specialized and segregated" which in turn means an increased cost to program delivery. 

Advocacy is one of the best foundation tools for the Practitioner's ToolKit!

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Beumer, J, de Haan, A and van der Ven, J (1999) Implications of Computer-Mediated Communication for People Who Are Visually Impaired in Dealing with Complex Visualization Tasks, Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, July 2000, Volume 94, Number 7, Online Version,http://www.reu.com/jvib/2000_07/00_07_tc.htm 

Garb, E, (1999), Maximizing the Potential of Young Adults with Visual Impairments: The Metacognitive Element, Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, September 2000, Volume 94, Number 9, Online Version, http://www.reu.com/jvib/2000_09/00_09_tc.htm 

Harrison, N, (1998) How to Design Self-Directed & Distance Learning Programs:A Guide to Instructional Design for Creators of Web-Based Training, Computer-Based Training,, McGraw-Hill Corporation

Kosiur, D, (1997) Understanding Electronic Commerce, How Online Transactions Can Grow Your Business, Microsoft Press, p. 167

Sorensen, M Milwaukee Area Technical College (2000) Learning Online: Style Matters, Canadian Association for Distance Education, presentation, Conference in Quebec City, May 2000

Van Wagner, N, Acadia University, (2000) Using Technology to Accommodate  Individual Learning Styles: Distance Education Paves the Way, Canadian Association for Distance Education, presentation, Conference in Quebec City, May 2000

Wolffe, K, (2000), Employment Update: Critical Skills in Career Advancement for People with Visual Impairments, Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, August 2000, Volume 94, Number 8, Online Version http://www.reu.com/jvib/2000_08/00_08_tc.htm 

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